Jump to main content of page

What Happened to the Firkin Pubs

(Please Note: This article was originally written in 2000 when I created my first pub review and travel guide. I’ve added some annotations and additions, and these are indicated.)


Firkin Dogbolter Pump ClipThe Firkin pub chain was started in London in 1979 by David Bruce[1]. He stepped in and bought a few run-down pubs off the major brewers where they were unable to make them pay. As well as redocorating the pubs in a basic but friendly style, he introduced the long forgotten concept of pubs brewing their own beer.

The breweries were tiny and were located behind or underneath the pubs – often with viewing windows or hatches so that the ‘machinery’ became part of the environment.

I first became aware of the chain in 1980 when friends took me to one of the original pubs, the Goose and Firkin in Borough, London SE1. The pub was packed and the atmosphere very lively, with a pianist leading everyone through an old style pub sing-song. I also used to frequent the original Frog and Firkin – a tiny pub just by the Hammersmith & City line near Westbourne Park station. Another well known pub was the Phoenix and Firkin which occupied the old ticket office at Denmark Hill station in South London. The name refers to the fact that the ticket office was previously destroyed by fire, but was renovated to create the pub.


With the success of the concept, the chain grew rapidly until 1988 when David Bruce sold the chain to European Leisure. The pubs changed hands a couple more times in a short period until in 1991 the chain was taken over by Allied Lyons (later Allied Domecq).

Flyman & Firkin, Shaftesbury AvenueAfter this the chain expanded again, not just in London but all over the country – typically in university towns. There were a few wobbly periods but generally the pubs were excellent, had a great atmosphere and played good music too.

The 1995 CAMRA Good Beer Guide records that the chain had 44 pubs of which 19 actually brewed. (The non-brewery pubs were supplied by one of the other Firkin pubs). Each pub tended to have it’s own named bitter, along with the Dogbolter and other seasonal beers.The Dogbolter[2] was always my favourite drink as it tasted like nothing else – a rich, dark, strong brew, although it didn’t do to drink it all night long.

When going for a night out in London, trips to Firkin pubs were always on the schedule. My favourites were The Flyman and Firkin, Fanfare and Firkin in the West End of London, along with The Fringe and Firkin in Shepherds Bush. I can’t remember the name but the Firkin pub in Winchester was really good too.

The Bass Takeover

Apparently in the spring of 1999, Whitbread and Punch Taverns both made hostile bids to take over the entire Allied Domecq pub roster. After a bidding war, Whitbread pulled out of the running leaving Punch Taverns to take over with financing from Bass. It then appears that Punch Taverns sold the Firkin chain on to Bass.

Early in October 1999, signs were appearing in Firkin pubs in London announcing that Firkin beers were to be discontinued, to be replaced with two ‘new’ and ‘exciting’ brews – namely Tetleys and Burtons.

So on October 8th 1999 all brewing of Firkin beers stopped completely and all the brewing staff were made redundant. Some of the Central London Firkin pubs had stock left for a few days, but because of the high turnover, it didn’t last to the following weekend.

It is unclear why Punch Taverns/Bass bought the chain and then decided to cease production of the distinctive Firkin beers, but it was certainly not done in the interest of consumer choice[3]. Tetleys, and Burtons especially may have been quality beers, but they are limp and lifeless when compared to Firkin beer.

Following any of the links in this section will take you away from this site and I can’t be held responsible for their content.

2010 Notes

  1. David Bruce is now a director of the Capital Pub Company which operates about 25 pubs in London. These pubs are appranetly not themed in the same way the Firkin pubs were, and none of them brew their own beer.
  2. Dogbolter actually does live on! The Ramsgate Brewery, based in Broadstairs brews Gadds’ Faithful Dogbolter Porter which I believe uses the same recipe as the original Firkin versions. And I have read comments that it tastes very like the original. You can read more about it in a blog post elsewhere on this site from 2009 entitled Firkin Dogbolter.
  3. In 2000 I naively believed that pub chains would care what their customer thought since it was the customers that chose to go there and buy the beer. Looking back it was obvious that Punch wanted to minimise costs and maximise profits so weren’t really interested in the craft brewing and other unique aspects of the Firkin chain. I guess they were also interested in acquiring a chain of pubs that were often in prime locations within towns.

250 Responses to “What Happened to the Firkin Pubs”

  1. Richard,
    I used to play piano in the ferret on Saturdays and the only way to the loo was out of one door run around the corner and in the other. Always remember graffiti on the overflow “Watney’s best” !!!!
    Great days I’ve found some audio I’ll try to put up.

    Chris aka Boots 🙂

  2. Beverley says:

    Please can you help me find out ehat happened to flea and firkin and other firkin pubs in Manchester.
    I was a student in Manchester from 1992-1995.

  3. Sharon says:

    The Fox & Firkin was the original home of Dogbolter. Each pub that had its own brewery had a signature brew which was named for a twist on the pub name, eg the Fox was Dogbolter and the Font was Ale Mary.

  4. Graeme Palin says:

    The Firkin pubs were my “go to” in the early to mid-80’s when I was NE London Poly. The Pheasant & Firkin down the Angel was always a good starting place. My mate, Big John, and I ended up getting banned for falling off a table (on to people below) during a rendition of the “Wild Rover”…them were the days.

    Did they not have a Goatbolter beer for a while, as well?

  5. James Reid says:

    I played guitar and sang at the Phoenix & Firkin for a while in the early 90s. The nice booking guy found me from the Covent Garden buskers list. Great crowd and the Dogbolter was excellent. Happy memories of groups of students leaning over the balcony rail to shout requests and sing along.

  6. duncan adams says:

    when Allied Domeqc brought the Firkin brand to Scotland in mid 90s I worked on all the pubs, the first one being the Physician & Firkin in Edinburgh, quite a large one with its own brewery. Probably spent a couple of years in total doing the conversions, most of them involved takin down large walls to open up floor space in what were previously small segmented bars. They always had grand opening nights, the first couple were free bars all night, as it went on it changed to a couple of free drinks each, used to enjoy a few pints of dogbolter

    Physician & Firkin
    Footlights & Firkin
    Fiscal & Firkin
    Fringe. & Firkin

    Fitter & Firkin
    Fruitmarket & Firkin

    Freelance & Firkin

    St Andrews
    Feathery & Firkin

    Flare & Firkin

  7. Bob Green says:

    Good news, Dogbolter is available here at Ramsgate Brewery. I ordered a case and it took me right back! Help an ex-Firkin brewer out who has had to go largely online due to covid and all the pubs shut.
    It is run by Eddie Gadd who brewed the Dogbolter that won the award. (From memory I think it was brewed at the Ferret, but I could be wrong about that.) It was supposed to be Nick Milo’s at the Falcon, but a production issue meant it wasn’t going to be ready in time 🙂 Happy days!

  8. Alex says:

    I remember a few visits to the goose and firkin with me mates, we used to go by motorbike from Essex, what a brilliant trip down memory lane this blog has been, the piano tinkling away, the singing, the entertaining ride home after a dog bolter or two.. Cheers. ??

  9. Brian says:

    Used the Goose & Firkin as a regular drinking hole in the late 80s and then worked behind the bar for a while. It was madness on both sides at a weekend. Ceilidh band, morris dancers, all london football clubs – the clientele was varied and excellent for the most part, Never see the likes again!!

  10. Ian Gowland says:

    The Takeover paragraph is not quite correct from what I remember and understood. It was discovered… exposed that Allied Domecq and Whitbread had been in discussions to do a 2 billion deal but the monopolies and mergers commission decreed it was not fair as it was not open to market. Punch taverns, a newly founded business to the wet trade financed by a pizza express sale decided to put a cheeky 2.2 billion bid purely to gain the publicity…they were not expecting to win the opportunity to purchase. A director of theirs was in the US and had a chance meeting with George Soros who bizarrely offered to help them finance the deal. Hence a minnow took over a corporate whale…. the Firkins suffered the consequences of meeting the repayment to Soros. They were sold off in chunks and became inferior branded products under the likes of Bass.

  11. George J Thompson says:

    We became the sole supplier of equipment to Firkin and main service contractor – lots of happy memories from Paris to Aberdeen.

  12. David says:

    David Bruce is a plaster-cast saint compared to that hooligan at Wetherspoons, Tim Martin.

    I graduated with honours in falling over in the Firkin pubs in London ca.1981-1983. His sort is surely needed in these torrid days, when Camra are in apparent civil war over the correct naming of pubs….

    Fond, but possibly mistaken, memories of the Dogbolter.

  13. Stefan Algar says:

    I was a regular at the Goose & Firkin on a Thursday evening. We spent so many evenings singing along to Jamie and his keyboard. I would love to connect with him and say that we still sing the songs and remember being 10 pints of Dogbolter people…. such fond memories..

  14. Dorothy Smith says:

    My husband and I use to manage the Goose and Firkin in Southwark before moving to the Phoenix in the late 80’s loved it . Nigel was our brewery there. Never the same when David Bruce sold them.

  15. Susanne says:

    I went to Southbank poly (as it was then) in 1992 and the Goose & firkin was our go to place.
    We were a class from Sweden who sort of rented space in the poly. Loved that pub!! Music, bartenders and crowd!

  16. Tony says:

    I remember having a t-shirt saying ‘For Fox Sake, get me a Firkin pint’ from the Fox and Firkin , which I think was in Streatham? I lived in Tooting Bec at the time.

  17. Bear says:

    Used to go to the Flounder & Firkin, Holloway Road, London in the early 90s, for a pint or two of ‘Dog’. Started brewing Dog at home with a beer kit, not the same as in the Firkin pubs, but a very good home brew! Had one of the last pints of Dog in the Flag & Firkin, Watford, I think either xmas or NYE 1999. Tried Gadds version of Dogbolter, but was less than impressed…..

  18. Grant McPhie says:

    My name is Grant McPhie. My wife (to be), Moira, and I managed the Frog and Firkin in Tavistock Crescent for several years until 1983, at which time we returned to New Zealand.
    At that time the brewer at the Frog was Eric Peacock, and it seems he and his wife Caro went on to manage the Pheasant. Eric and Caro were lovely folk, and we became friends during that time.
    Moira and I were working at the Fox and Firkin in Lewisham when we were offered the Frog, and by that same afternoon we had taken over – just in time to open for the evening session.
    We sold the usual range of “Firkin Beers”, a regular range of guest beers and on special occasions we presented beers such as “Diana-Mite” and “Charlie-Did” – limited production brews which commemorated the marriage of Charles and Diana Spencer, and the birth of Prince William. They were, of course “extra” strength brews.
    I remember the “hat collection” around the walls, and the Friday night “parties” we would organise (including one called the Mad Hatters Party)!
    When talking about my life this time is often described as “some of the best years of my life”, and I have many fond memories from then.
    David Bruce was a true entrepreneur, and a gentleman. I have several mementos, some of which David and Louise gifted to us on our departure from the group.
    I was distressed by the news that the Firkin chain had been sold to corporate brewing and had been “swallowed up”.
    It has been my intention to return to the U.K. soon, and if that comes to pass I will surely try to contact David and Louise.
    I would love to hear from anybody who remembers me from those days – there are so many people I remember – Geoffrey Barrington Smythe, Gour and Debbie, Zoey, Neil Charlesworth, the list goes on and on! Ahhh . . . memories!

  19. Steve says:

    Hey big steve here used to be the drayman for the firkins anyone remember the van man? Used to work in the flounder too !! If you remember me get in touch stephenafisher@yahoo.co.uk

  20. Graham Clark says:

    Remember working in London for a while and being taken to the Pheasant and Firkin. Managed a session drinking Bruce’s Dogbolter and walking to the tube station, it then became a bit bleary and upon surfacing the following morning, found myself wearing a T shirt I’d one for remaining standing which read, Firkin Boozers Do It Falling Over….or similar.
    Brilliant places.

  21. Les McLean says:

    I worked at The Goose (1984/85) when Dave Torr was manager, I have great memories of the pianists we had Frankie boy, Kjartan Poskitt, Boots and Jamie, we also had a ceilidh band that would turn up on sunday afternoons, we never knew how many would come so we paid them with a bucket of beer(literally a white bucket) placed on the table they could dip their pint pots into as they played. I also remember we had a false ceiling that was always in danger of being wrecked when people were jumping up and down on the tables on a friday night.We’ll never see its like again!

  22. David Winskill says:


    Thanks for the memories.

    Does anyone remember a beer that was brewed by Bruce for his beer festival in the early 1980s called Sphincter?


  23. Loraine says:

    A gang of us Aussie’s loved visiting the Goose & Firkin at Borough on a Friday night and getting loaded on the red coloured Dogbolter and singing at the top of our lungs – always a top night out! Those were the days – sigh

  24. Anne Somerfeld says:

    Coming from the US I was going to school in London back in 1986. Frog and Firkin, Elephant and Firkin, Goose and Firkin. Those were the ones I can remember ;). Oh and they used to have an “American” night at one of them and kids that were going to schools all over London from all over the US would get together, sing songs, be loud, oh it was fun. Oh it was fun. I was a “West End Girl”, thank you Pet Shop Boys……..

  25. Alan Bunde says:

    In 1998, on London pub crawl w/ 20 from Milw., WI, USA, I found the Pheasant & Firkin in Islington. Being a consultant and brewer for several brewpub startups in Wisconsin, and son of 10 yr. chairman of the Eau Claire Rod & Gun Pheasant Farm, they were very inviting and adopted me. Got basement tour & ed on firkins, they stayed open late, gave me “I’m a Firkin Pheasant Plucker” sweatshirt, rugby ball, etc.Had “light lunchtime” Plucker, Pheasant session ale and got Pheasantly Plucked on the Dogbolter. Seeing the Pheasant Plucker poem, I wrote a song & play accordion. Had lunch (& beers) at Greenwich site, and Photographer & Firkin too,(I think by Picad.area)? I am so glad to see site & history of awesome spots.

  26. Bill Booth says:

    I met my wife in 1992 at the Fox and Firkin in Newport Beach California. We are still going strong, but unfortunately the Fox and Firkin close down around 1995. It’s now a furniture store, what a shame. I converted a small downstairs room in our house into a pub of sorts, we call it “Farm and Frikin”.

  27. Mark Doughty says:

    The only one I ever went to was in Holloway Road in North London; I think it was fairly close to Archway tube station. I can’t remember the name of it, but the beer was excellent and I think there was a recess area at the back with an aquarium built into a hole in the wall, so you could stare at the fish in the tank if the conversation went flat!

    Fond memories of it and enjoyable evenings, although it did get very busy in there at times, if memory serves.

  28. Frederick West says:

    David Bruce’s latest venture, west Berkshire brewery, has just gone under. He’s lost investors £15 million . As he once said to me ‘as for my staff, I sold them down the river’ (in relation the his sake of the firkin pub chain. Not a pleasant man at all.

  29. Mark says:

    The Ferret was the warm up pub for me and 2 other pilgrims to Stamford Bridge. Wining the World Club Cup brought back fond memories of Doug Rougvie clearing wingers into Brompton Cemetary long after the ball had gone. There were darker times too but the Ferret was always fun.

  30. Beverley Kent says:

    My late dad was one of the early frequenters of the Goose and Firkin he loved the beer and introduced me to real ale – lovely stuff. Sad they’ve all done now. Anyone know the name of the brewed beer at this one ?

  31. Brian says:

    Drank a lot and ended up serving even more when I worked at the Goose back in the late 80s. Never come across another pub remotely like it. The beer, the singing, the punters. Take me back ?

  32. Phil says:

    As a student in londin c1985 we did the Firkin crawl. I bought all the T-Shirts. Seem to remember some of the slogans went like this: “Phoenix me pint, i’ll Firkin thump him”, “Goose a Firkin pint”, “Fro’ God’s sake, buy me a Firkin Pint”, . The Ferret and Firkin was actually called “the ferret and firkin in a ballon up the creek”

  33. I’ve recently (today!) come across Firkin Pubs https://www.firkinpubs.com/ in one of Gary Gillman’s pieces https://www.beeretseq.com/pensees-vol-6-2/ and wondered if there was any connection. The Friesian and Firkin in Old Town Clapham was one of my locals in the ’80s – and not very good, certainly not compared with the competition (Tim Bobbin, Prince of Wales, Sun, Rose and Crown ….. I used to change trains at Denmark Hill irregularly, and would drop into the Phoenix and Firkin, which was well worth stopping for the beer as well as for watching the world go by not just by train!

  34. Andrew says:

    How sad to find out oly now, that these pubs are no more. A typical story of corporate arrogance and ignorance. I live in Austria since years and find my self with some nostalgic sadness.. after a game of cricket at Victoria Park, East London we’d go for a Dogbolter at the Falcon & Firkin.

  35. chris iles says:

    I used to work behind the bar and do the door at the goose and firkin in the days Frankie flame and 12 stringed Steve played there , fond fond memories 😉

  36. Mick Etherington says:

    I used to work just up the road from The Goose and spent many happy hours in there.

    I seem to recall a special brew called 14% ale was made when the mortgage rate hit that dizzy height.

    Does anyone else remember that?

  37. Simon Lacey says:

    I used to drink there now and then around 1991-1996. I recall each sold things like T shirts with slogans on them that were relevant to each pub. The Phoenix & Firkin was something like ‘Phoenix my pint I’ll Firkin thump him!’ 🙂

  38. Mike Keogh says:

    The Fox and Firkin in Lewisham is now a lively independent huge pub and massive garden running bands, mainly Reggae, and involving itself in the LGBTQI community. I was there on the opening night in the early 80s. Didier is the curremt owner and hopes to set up a brewery in the Sainsbury’s Depository (a historic warehouse) behind. He has hopes to have a Theatre based there too as a larger hall is above the pub! Maybe ‘Above The Stag’ Theatre will move there? I’m on the case! Ahhh…the fabulous Dogbolter! My t-shirt with that be on fell apart years ago…

  39. Bonnie says:

    I used to work at the Philatelist and Firkin in Bromley in the late 90s. We had the best lock-ins. The pub was always absolutely packed out and it had an on site brewery. As soon as they turned it into an O’Neils it lost its charm and loads of regular customers. So sad.

  40. susan wilby says:

    Regarding the Goose,Ferret,Frog to name a few, I have just been sorting through old tapes of my husbands, and found one of the frigate August 1993. His name was Chris Kirtley and he played piano in all the firkin pubs for years. Sadly he passed away a couple of months ago, luckily i have his tapes to listen to of those crazy days.
    Great to read about others fun times

  41. Nik milo says:

    The dogbolter that won the award was brewed in 1994 at the ferret and firkin by Eddie gadd to s et the record straight it wasn’t going to be brewed at the falcon at the time and hadn’t been brewed for over a year where production was taken over by the flounder and then switched to the ferret and firkin

  42. Fi says:

    Fugue and firkin was the one in Winch

  43. Sean Moyles says:

    Happy memories of the Falstaff and Firkin (Three Tuns) in Sutton Coldfield. The gaffer used to let his regulars name the house beers. He but a stop to that after we named one ‘Bell End Bitter’… I suppose there’s only so many times you can hear: “Mark, would you be so kind as to pull my Bell End for me?” 🙂

  44. N Webber says:

    I worked for my dads advertising company in London (Falcon Arts) from the mid 80s to the late 90s. I came up with a number of ideas for the Firkin pub signs. Sadly we never got to keep any of the original cartoon artwork but I do still have some photocopies. I used a cartoonist who was based in Radlett called Paul Elliot and he produced around 25ish artworks.
    My ideas can be identified as I had a small mouse tucked somewhere in the picture. Paul the cartoonist was a QPR fan and on one of the signs he put the mouse in a blue and white hooped shirt, I believe it was for a pub near the Liverpool FC ground. I know that when he went to a match in the area he took great pride in pointing it out to the QPR supporters.

  45. Allison says:

    Found this post…albeit late and brought back some great memories! I used to work in the Fanfare & Firkin when it first opened. I was the only English girl working there! Loved the fact the staff were from all over France, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, Croatia, Russia. Always meant we could near enough answer anyone. Jeff the manager was superb and it was always buzzing on a Friday night?

  46. Mark Standing says:

    I was the Brewer in the mid-nineties for the Fielder at Sutton and then down in Woking. I was taught at the Company by a master brewer Bill Bell, a man who had brewed across the planet. All of my fellow Brewers strived to make the best niche beers we could possibly produce. Unfortunately our betters never saw past their greed.
    Oddly enough, today I met a Gent (in the pub naturally) that had a Fielder T-shirt on from those days. After bending his ear for a while, he said he’d bought it in a charity shop and never went to the pub in question… Hey Ho… I Still brew Dogbolter at home from my original brewing notes though. You can take the Boy out the Brewery but the Brewery stays in the Boy.

  47. Rob says:

    My first ever night in London was at the Goose, Wednesday night with Jamie playing the piano. Was a regular for years. Absoloute cracking nights and met a lot of good friends I’m still in touch with 30 odd years later.

  48. Paul B says:

    I used to drink in a few of these in the 90s – they were my favourite pubs. The Flock and Firkin in Dalston was a really nice old building, but I visited plenty of others as was living in Wood Green at the time and many were just a tube ride away.

  49. Ken says:

    As a visiting yank in the early 90s I stopped into the Phoenix & Firkin. Chatted up the head brewer about the beervolution going down then in Oregon. After having a look at the brewing operation we went to the bar where complimentary pint after pint of their nectar was presented. I became abjectly sh*tfaced, embarrassed myself, then stumbled to a quiet Chinese restaurant where I unceremoniously refurged that nectar (and fortunately nothing else) onto my meal. Oh, so sorry!

  50. WillieT says:

    Spent a few nights drinking at the Fort & Firkin near Windsor Castle in the late 90’s while on a business trip. Still have a t-shirt I purchased from there…
    “For Forts sake I’m roy-ale thirsty”

    Also visited the Phrenologist & Firkin for a mid-day drink & bite.

    Good times

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share this page (Links open new windows/tabs)

  • Share this page on LinkedIn (opens new window)
  • Share this page on Delicious (opens new window)
  • Share this page on Digg (opens new window)
  • Share this page on Posterous (opens new window)
  • Share this page on Reddit (opens new window)
  • Share this page on Stumbleupon (opens new window)

Like to Subscribe?

If you'd like to receive email updates from Good Beer, Good Pubs whenever a new post or review is published then head over to the Subscribe page. Just enter your email address and it'll all be taken care of. We will not use your email address for anything else without your permission.